MOSCOW, June 11 Oil major BP accused its Russian
partners of staging a boardroom coup at their 50-50 Russian oil
joint venture TNK-BP on Wednesday as the two sides prepared to
re-enter negotiations on the future of the company.
The London-based oil major and its Russian partners, a group
of four Russian billionaires united in the Alfa-Access-Renova
(AAR) consortium, have been locked in a long-running conflict
over strategy and ownership at the company.
Mounting pressure over recent months on the troubled oil
firm, including tax probes, raids on offices and the arrest of
an employee, have led analysts to speculate that a
state-controlled energy giant will soon muscle in on TNK-BP.
"We believe that AAR and a number of high-level managers
affiliated with AAR are acting in violation of the shareholders
agreement and are trying to establish control over TNK-BP," BP
spokesman Vladimir Buyanov said.
Vedomosti business daily quoted a BP representative at
TNK-BP, Alastair Graham, as saying the same thing in a letter
addressed to the Russian partners in the venture.
A source close to BP confirmed the existence of the letter.
AAR had no immediate comment on the reports.
Russian police spent more than five hours on Tuesday
questioning TNK-BP's TNBPI.RTS CEO Robert Dudley in a back-tax
probe, the latest difficulty faced by the firm.
At the same time, a court case is dragging on in Siberia
which has prevented TNK-BP from using the services of 140
specialist BP secondees.
Industry sources have said Russian gas giant Gazprom
(GAZP.MM) is keen to buy a stake in TNK-BP, but do not rule out
the possibility that state-controlled oil champion Rosneft may
also be interested.
Much of the conflict at the firm has been prompted by a
battle over who is forced to sell down their stake in order to
let the state in.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward said while visiting Russia
for an investment conference last weekend that he was confident
BP would resolve its differences with its Russian partners and
believed TNK-BP had a big future ahead of it.
The Russian partners have consistently said they have no
intention to sell their stakes.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing
by Elizabeth Fullerton)